The Visit and Split were commercial and critical successes, though both had plot twists, respectively. The film before these two hits, After Earth, which Night only directed for Will Smith and son, Jaden Smith, is the only title in the filmography that lacks the traditional or I should say, the Shyamalan-esque plot twist. It’s written by Gary Whitta, based on a idea by Will Smith.
Huffington Post recently conducted an interview with James Newton Howard, Night’s longtime collaborator, who’s composed the score on almost all of Night’s films. The interview is worth the read as Howard discusses 30 years of making music for movies.
During the interview, Howard recalls the time he worked with Night on The Sixth Sense—receiving a phone call one day from Night regarding a song that Howard included on the ‘The Sixth Sense’ soundtrack that was called ‘Malcolm Is Dead.’ James, you gave away the secret of the movie. You can’t say Malcolm Is Dead, saying Night to Howard, comically.
But the result obviously paid off. Malcolm’s big moment is among the greatest surprises in film history, along with the rest of well-executed plot twists that Night wrote and directed post Sixth Sense.
Howard, though, believes Night became wary of his reputation for twists after The Sixth Sense super success:
“I think, in a way, for Night, that the success of that ‘Sixth Sense’ moment was so profound that it almost became such an expectation on the part of the audience that he was going to do that every time,” he said. “Night’s first consideration is storytelling, and he’s a great storyteller, but I think he felt the burden of that … as some kind of identification that he was going to sort of have to bear for the rest of his entire career.”
“Often times, I think he wanted to get away from that,” he added, “and people didn’t like it. He tried to get away from it. They always wanted him to do a certain kind of thing.”
That in itself is a twist. I, personally, think that Night is quite good at it. As Howard said, “Night’s first consideration is storytelling,” something that Night is surely good at. But then adding the twist in the end, especially the way Night does it, always makes the film more palatable, because Night not only writes, but directs as well. Controlling the suspense, building tension, and always having his actors deliver strong performances, all these elements leading to that sweet twist in the last frame, it’s always fun and quite stylish. I say, keep it up, Night!